Universal FGM

Warning – bad stuff.

The BBC reports:

A top UN official in Iraq has said the Sunni Islamist group Isis controlling the city of Mosul is seeking to impose female genital mutilation.

All females aged 11 and 46 in the northern city must undergo the procedure, according to an Isis edict, UN official Jacqueline Badcock said.

That second sentence must be a typo – it has to mean aged from 11 to 46, not 11 and 46.

At any rate, if it’s true, and they mean it – well. That’s quite something.

Yo, George Bush? Feeling proud of your accomplishments this morning?

Update: links to denials in comments.



  1. Blanche Quizno says

    We’ve got us a Poe situation. Is there ANYONE who finds it inconceivable that an extremist Muslim group like ISIS WOULDN’T do this??

  2. Elizabeth Woo says

    Yes, Blanche, I think a lot of religious apologists and so-called anti-imperialists have their heads so deeply buried in the sand, that this news would seem inconceivable to them. Look how often they deny its connection to Islam, despite the fact that (barring some isolated tribal context) it is an exclusively Muslim practice in Asia and is found among non-Muslim in Africa only when contiguous to Muslim populations. But nope, it is a magic “culture” that just happens to extend from Burkina Faso to Indonesia.

    Think Progress was quick to fly to the defense of rightwing theocrats. In the comments some white, leftwing journalism student, Kate Kerbrat, was defending FGM, even decrying the use of the term “mutilation.” Fortunately she got slammed by multiple commenters, but still her attitude is very real, and journalists can have disproportionate sway over people..

  3. says

    Well, it’s a relief if the story is false. Isis seems more than bad enough, even without this. And the argument that this is untypical of the region carries some force.

  4. unity says

    First, it’s not clear as yet whether the document that’s circulating on social media is the source of the UN official’s claim.

    That hasn’t been confirmed and if that document is the source it’s going to be a major embarrassment for the UN as the document is dated 2013 and includes a reference to Aleppo rather than Mosul.

    If that document isn’t the UN then its entirely possible that is something they’ve picked up from the Christian refugees who’ve recently been effectively driven out of Mosul in which case you’ve got unverified information based rumours circulating amongst some very scared people.

    Is there ANYONE who finds it inconceivable that an extremist Muslim group like ISIS WOULDN’T do this??

    There are reasonably religious and historical reasons to doubt both the UN’s claims and that a group even as extreme as ISIS would require all women aged between 11 and 46 to submit to FGM.

    For one thing, in regards to the timing off this, ISIS is trying to establish its claim to be recognised as a Caliphate in the eyes of the Islamic world which will mean that it will need to observe certain traditional forms and ways of doing things. So if it were to issue a fatwa of this kind, you would expect the announcement to be made formally in the name of the Caliph and for it to be communicated through Friday prayers because that is the way that such edicts have traditionally been communicated. The “ritual” matters if you’re trying to convince other Muslims that you have a legitimate claim to the title of Caliph.

    It’s also rather implausible that an edict requiring ALL women aged between 11 and 46, including those that are already married, to submit to FGM would be issued. If it said all unmarried women then that might just about fly as plausible but it would very strange move, and risky in terms of provoking resistance, for ISIS to seek to impose such a rule on married women.

  5. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Apparently, according to this article on Aussie ABC news online :


    the United Nations has confirmed this – specifically “UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Iraq Jacqueline Badcock told reporters by video-link from the Iraqi city of Arbil on Thursday.”

    I am horrified but not exactly surprised.

  6. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @4 Decker : “I think it’s a load of BS.”

    And your reasons for so thinking would be what exactly?

  7. freemage says

    StevoR: Not so fast. http://rt.com/news/175272-iraq-genital-mutilation-militants/

    The key bit:

    However, later reports cast doubt on the viral story. As it turns out, the Islamic State’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi suggested the practice over a year ago, while Badcock herself admitted to having “zero contact” with the extremist group, alluding mainly to rumors heard from tribal leaders in the area.

    So here’s the likely breakdown:

    1: Islamic State leader talks about his power-fantasy of forcing all women to undergo FGM.

    2: This runs the rumor-mill among people who have every reason to believe the worst of ISIS.

    3: Rumor-mill slowly transforms it into being an actual decree. This gets bolstered with a bogus image.

    4: UN rep in the area gets told the rumor by multiple sources (because it’s been around long enough to be that widespread), and issues the statement to her bosses and then the media without directly checking, because she’s smart enough to not go near the ISIS asshats.

    So, kernel of truth under a handful of bullshit. The IS leader has stated that he’d LIKE to do this, and if ISIS gains stable control of the region, it’s perfectly plausible that he’d push for it.

  8. Decker says


    Because I’d read reports that cast doubt on the veracity of the claim.

    That said, the monsters in ISIS are prepared to commit just about any atrocity.

  9. jesse says

    There are lots of reasons I can come up with right off the bat that this story smells fishy as hell, and it isn’t the reasons Elizabeth Woo says — that those of us who are anti-imperialist are just dumb fools.

    First, FGM is not a particularly Islamic practice. A cursory look at where it happens the most includes Liberia (50% rate, 85% Christian, pop. 4m) and Ethiopia (79.9% rate, 62% Christian, pop ~90m), the Central African Republic (35.9% rate, 80% Christian, pop 4.4m) and South Sudan (up to 90% rate, ~80% Christian or animist, pop 8m). In Nigeria the highest rate of FGM is among the Yoruba in Oyo State and Ondo, and the Yoruba are traditionalists or Christians mostly, only about a third of the 36m Yoruba are Muslim. (Data on rates of FGM is from the FGM Network, an anti-FGM group, and some literature searches).

    FGM is a very African practice, at least in the modern era. (At some point it was widespread in parts of Central Asia and India but it seems basically absent now from there — the only country that seems to practice anything like it is Indonesia). There are countries outside of Africa where I see “is present” but my sense is that the rates are quite low– certainly in Central Asia, where the practice was outlawed under the USSR.

    Second, FGM is pretty much absent from the center of Sunni orthodoxy, Saudi Arabia. There are minority tribes where it happens, but it’s not something that is widespread anymore. Certainly nowhere near as common as in Africa if it’s there.

    Third, FGM is pretty much gone from all of (largely Muslim) North Africa except for Egypt which has one of the higher prevalence rates. (IIRC there’s some archeological evidence that it originated there or in that general stretch of the Nile). It’s also absent in Africa south of the Equator.

    The pattern of countries where FGM is common just doesn’t follow Islam particularly well, but it does correspond to the major river systems stretching from Egypt to sub-Saharan Africa. I doubt that’s a coincidence, and it would have little to do with the spread of Islam since FGM pretty clearly predates Islam’s arrival. In fact one example of this is Guinea-Bissau, where most people weren’t Christian or Muslim at all until the last 20 years or so, yet FGM was still present at rates of 70%+.

    That ISIS, a group of people who are basically Arabs from the Levant, would call for this strikes me as fishy. It isn’t impossible. But it doesn’t make a ton of sense given where they are from — FGM is simply not much of a thing in Iraq/ Jordan/ Syria. (Though it evidently does happen in some Kurdish groups, it seems rare). There’s also the fact that while such groups often impose harsh versions of Islamic Law one thing they are NOT stupid enough to do is to ask people to do something they would oppose outright.

    For example, the Taliban in Afghanistan may have imposed Islamic law in the areas they controlled, but it’s notable that they didn’t ask people to adopt Arab customs and in fact institutionalized things that were long part of the local culture. Yes, they were retrograde, but politically speaking they weren’t idiots. ISIS isn’t stupid either.

    Importing a practice from cultures rather far removed from Iraq and the Levant in the name of Islam would be politically suicidal. Any insurgent group needs at least tacit support (or non-opposition) of the locals — ISIS can hold territory at all because they offer something (order) that enough people will sign on to so they won’t actively fight them. This doesn’t mean they say “I love ISIS” — it just means they say “I’m tired of the fighting and these thugs will stop it so I can go to market without risking death by stray bullet.” The Taliban took advantage of the same thing. Heck, it’s basic strategy to every insurgent group ever that lasted more than a week.

    (In the US, by the way, this is the reason for the popularity of “law and order” candidates, who offer the same thing in a much less extreme situation. Nobody ever lost an election saying they would be tough on crime).

    Anyhow, point is, fanatical =/= stupid.

    Is it impossible that they said they would institute FGM? No. But it would be darn hard to impose if the local population was restive. It would be like conservative Christians — say, FLDS people — deciding to import the practice from Ethiopia. Possible? Maybe, Ethiopians are Christians, after all, right? Likely? Not really. (Though I wonder how many conservative Christians would think it a good idea).

  10. Blanche Quizno says

    There’s also the fact that while such groups often impose harsh versions of Islamic Law one thing they are NOT stupid enough to do is to ask people to do something they would oppose outright.

    Before the US invasion of Iraq, under Saddam Hussein’s regime, women were full-fledged members of society – they held jobs of all sorts, they were educated (including higher educated), they moved freely – going where they wished, driving cars, etc. They wore whatever clothes they chose.

    Now, all these women – half the population – is basically imprisoned by men because Islam. They are forced to wear specific coverings, restricted from education, cannot move freely about – all enforced under threat of violence.

    If the women of Iraq could see *ALL* their rights stripped from them – and no one bothered to ask if they approved – how can this FGM issue be all that different?

  11. freemage says

    Blanche: The big thing is the inclusion of married women in the alleged fatwa. Remember, it’s one thing to override the rights of women; as you correctly note, these shitbirds are quite happy doing that. But it’s another to attempt to tell a man what he has to do with his property (ie, his wife). That’s very likely a bridge too far politically, even if they’d love to be able to make it happen in their dark, shriveled hearts.

  12. jesse says

    Blanche– you missed the point entirely. While there are many things an insurgent group can try to impose (and they do) if you try to impose something that’s too far afield from people’s daily experience/ culture it just isn’t going to work.

    Example: if a dictator took over the US under the guise of Christian values and baseball and apple pie, that’s one thing. If that same dictator said “everyone must speak French” that would not fly and s/he’d run into real problems that the former position would not. You see what I mean here?

    You seem to keep making the mistake of equating fanaticism with stupidity. The old Catholic Church leadership or the Puritans were surely fanatics; but Cotton Mather wasn’t stupid — he was a politician and operated that way.

    ISIS can’t just impose things willy-nilly. Dictatorships of ANY kind don’t work that way. They just don’t. It isn’t like bad movies where the evil ruler decides to just execute people for shits and giggles and drops his underlings through trap doors on a whim. Saddam Hussein didn’t operate that way. Dictatorships often work by leaving just enough people alone and offering just enough safety and order and even benefits to just enough folks that the majority will not oppose them (this is different from support and different from passive opposition). Hitler, Stalin, Franco, Mussolini, and yes Hussein, were all students of this approach. Sheer terror is often not effective and just about every dictator who lasted more than a few days knew that.

  13. Bob-B says

    It’s a bit silly to bring George Bush into this. You might as well blame Obama for allowing Islamists to take control over the opposition to Bashar Al-Assad and hence giving ISIS the opportunity to prosper. What George Bush did was to overthrow a psychopathic dictator and give Iraqis the chance to develop a flourishing democracy. By now Iraq could have been a bit like Germany eleven years after the overthrow of Hitler. It’s not George Bush’s fault that it isn’t.

  14. jesse says

    Bob-B —

    You’re aware that there are very, very big differences in how Iraq and Germany were governed?

    Let’s go over a few:

    Iraq: Army was essentially fired
    Germany: Army was left intact.

    Iraq: Civil servants were fired
    Germany: Bureaucrats left in place, mostly.

    Iraq: A single occupying power forced through law that allowed foreign control of the country’s most important industry
    Germany: Massive aid and a shared occupation policy (the Brits, French and Russians all had a say) and efforts to rebuild indigenous industry without selling it to GM

    Iraq: Foreign occupier tortures prisoners, sends others to rot indefinitely in Guantanamo
    Germany: POWs freed by about 1946 with the end of hostilities

    Do we need to go on? Do you have any idea what the de-Nazification process entailed? How much of the already limited Iraqi industry had been crippled by sanctions previously? That there was no such thing as a bullet made in Iraq? Ye gods.

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